Jeske van Seters and San Bilal, ECDPM brief, March 2020
The expansion of European small and medium enterprises beyond EU borders will not only be important for competitiveness, economic growth and innovation, but also for the promotion of EU values and interests, including environmental sustainability and social inclusion. This is even more important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it hits the economy hard and European economic isolation is unlikely to help turn the economic tide. Initiatives to promote business, trade and investment such as the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) can contribute to making better use of trade policies and agreements to achieve concrete results for consumers, workers and businesses – all while respecting the planet and people.
The network’s role in the EU’s sustainable trade agenda has become increasingly significant in recent years, but its potential remains largely untapped. Three ways to make better use of the EEN are: (1) extend its geographical scope, including in Africa; (2) strengthen its social and environmental criteria and support, to serve both EU values and economic interests, in line with the European Green Deal; and (3) reinforce the network to use trade opportunities more effectively, better identify trade challenges and collect feedback from businesses when it comes to formulate trade policies.
There is also a need to better connect initiatives that promote business, trade and investment and development cooperation activities with low-income countries outside of Europe. Development cooperation funding could help local business support organisations to join EEN and empower their work.
The driver behind all this should be EU institutional coordination. This joined-up thinking and working for sustainable trade is fully in line with the priorities and directions taken by the incumbent European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen.
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